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Kent’s unique pediatric center helps babies born to addiction

KENT, Wash. - It looks like any other nursery in any other community, with newborns in the caring arms of nurses being rocked to sleep.

But the babies at the Pediatric Interim Care Center in Kent are also waging a battle against addiction.

“With any baby, you’re not going to know what the withdrawals are going to be like until the baby is born,” said Barbara Drennen, the director at the care center.

She has been helping babies born addicted to drugs since she opened its doors 28 years ago.

Before that, she was a foster parent who cared for many babies in the Kent community. Over time, she found herself caring for more and more babies born to addiction.

“It was very hard to calm them and they were fussy and I didn’t know what was wrong with them,” Drennen said.

Some babies teetered on the edge, requiring 24-hour care.

“So I had 24-hour nursing, and even with that in my home, it was pretty scary caring for these babies," she said. "And then knowing that these babies were going into foster care without nursing in their homes, it was a very dangerous situation.

“I had public health nurses and doctors in the hospital asking me to do more than what I was doing in my home.”

So in 1990, Drennen opened the care center in Kent.

She found a dedicated staff, but the work can be difficult, as they ween babies off drugs, children in withdrawal, sometimes unable to eat.

Over the years, they have helped 3,000 newborns, and the bond remains strong with many of the children even after they’ve left. Many still visit and remain involved in the center, including a now-adult Sahvanna Jansen.

“I was born addicted to cocaine when I was a baby,” Jansen said as she rocked a baby to sleep in the very place where she was once nursed back to health.

Jansen is now a nursing assistant a the center.

“Whenever I hold a baby or cuddle a baby I feel like my heart melts, and so we just connect on that. It’s crazy to think that was me at one point, and to know that someone was doing what I’m doing now.”

The average stay for a baby at the center is 30 days.

Unfortunately, with the opioid epidemic in our region still raging, the number of newborns arriving there hasn’t subsided in nearly thirty years.

But the care they receive remains the same.